KYLE ABRAHAM – “LIVE!: THE REALEST MC”
Currently, there seems to be an upsurge in gender identity as choreographic subject matter. Tere O’Connor’s “Cover Boy” was conceived around issues of closeted gayness. Also performing the same weekend (December 8-10), Kyle Abraham’s “Live!: The Realest MC” is inspired by the story of Pinocchio, who wanted to be a “real boy” and an earlier solo “Inventing Pooky Jenkins.”
Abraham’s work is personal and autobiographical but not self-indulgent. Recent suicides by involuntarily “outed” young men, like Tyler Clementi in New Jersey last year, reminded Abraham of an unhappy adolescence, when he feared that because his voice didn’t sound like the other male students around him, he would be “found out.”
“I prayed that I could go unnoticed,” he states.
Presented at the Kitchen in West Chelsea, “Realest MC” alternates between highly crafted, hip-hop-inflected passages for the troupe’s two men and four women in various groupings and Abraham solo. The half a dozen cast members understand Abraham’s style and expressive intentions to a tee. They embody the quick-twitch hip-hop and ballet/postmodern scaffolding, on which the choreographer hangs his vision.
The rear curtain of the stage is made up of vertical strips, like king-sized vertical window blinds. A film by Brooklyn-based Carrie Schneider intermittently counterpoints the live dancing – boys, running through ghetto streets, some, edited into repeating loops. The projection occupies a horizontal rectangle at the lower right of the rear wall, so it doesn’t overwhelm the live performers.
Included in the film is a hilarious segment that shows an earnest but clueless white woman teaching a hip-hop class and trying to pass herself off as authentic. Abraham, too, takes an onstage lesson from a disembodied voice on how to do a hip roll.
Besides Abraham, the clearest physical reflection of his stylistic vision is a show-stealing solo by Chalvar Monteiro. He whips through intricately technical combinations – his pirouettes stop in a balance, then drop into a waacker’s squatting walk with voguing arms, and a sassy, booty-swinging stroll. Switching seamlessly and dazzlingly between vernacular extremes is of the essence of Abraham’s sensibility.
Monteiro also exhibits his girlie persona in a funny duo with hyper-macho Maleek Malaki Washington, as they illustrate recorded instructions being “real” hip-hop. Interpreting the same instruction Monteiro shifts into one hip with his arms framing his waist, while Washington plants his feet and folds his arms defiantly across his chest.
Dan Scully’s exciting lighting design amplifies the quick movement and extreme moods of the choreography, shaping the environment around the dancers with such immediate responsiveness that you get a sense of the quick-cut editing of a music video. Scully’s light keeps the stage is as brilliantly alive as the dancing.
In one solo, Abraham ambles to a microphone and in a deep, “butch” voice accosts us with an aggressive “Yo! Howy’all doin’?” greeting. Gradually, his gravelly, macho inflection dissolves into a sobbing little boy, crying over and over, “they held me down,” describing the bullying he suffered as a boy. Then, as he backs away from the mike, his voice drops back to the lower range, and it begins to sound like, “They help’d me now!”
Photos by Paula Court
© Gus Solomons jr, 2011